Software Defined Networking: The Future of IT Networking?


Software defined networking (SDN) has seen a lot of attention lately. Networking giants like Cisco and Juniper Networks have been actively scouting for emerging tech around SDN. VMware’s acquisition of Nicira has been a defining moment in the SDN industry. Many industry veterans are hailing SDN to be the next big thing in the field of IT Networking. But before we get into whether SDN is really the future of IT networking, we’ll take a quick dive into it’s fundamentals.

What is Software Defined Networking?

Software defined networking is an architectural approach to make a network as agile as the as the virtualized server and storage infrastructure of the modern data center. It employs Cloud Computing to enable network management, programmatically. The end result is a highly efficient network, controlled centrally.

More and more businesses today are moving towards a flexible and agile IT system infrastructure. The traditional networks behind data centres, however, still remain complex and static. SDN in principle, grants the same flexibility and agility to traditional networks by allowing for dynamic management of network resources.

All this can get a little confusing unless you understand how packet routing works in traditional IT networking systems. A network is comprised of many independent devices – routers, switches and hubs. Each of these devices comprise of three layers – management plane, control plane and data plane. All these are abstract concepts, defined on the basis of functionality. The management plane is where the User or Admin interacts with the device; the control plane is where the logic of routing sits and the data plane is where the routing of packets actually happens.

SDN suggests to decouple the control plane from the data plane, promoting a central intelligence network that can talk directly to data planes of various networking devices and control routing of packets. This central network is called SDN controller and is the brains behind the networking. Adoption of SDN allows for faster provisioning, bridging the gap between software and network hardware.

Industry Adoption

Most of the networks were designed for client-server applications running on non-virtualized infrastructures. As most of the corporates are moving towards virtualized infrastructures, including Cloud, Mobility and now IoT, the limitations of traditional networking architectures are beginning to emerge.

Although the origins of SDN are dated back to 1995, it wasn’t until first decade of the 21st century that SDN gained mainstream attention. IDC (International Data Corporation) estimates that the SDN market has grown from a $ 406 million industry in 2013 to more than a $ 6.6 Billion industry in 2017. They predict the growth to continue at a staggering 25.4% CAGR to reach approx $ 13.8 Billion by 2021. (Source)

Network World conducted a survey of 294 network professionals and had similar revelations. About 49% of the participants said to have either actively considered SDN or are conducting a pilot implementation. About 18% of them already had a Software Defined Network in place.

The Future

Currently, most of the discussions about SDN revolve around its implementation in data center networks. The staggering growth of the SDN market, however, points to immense possibilities. With the Internet of Things going mainstream and many countries around the world pushing for the smart cities concept, SDN will play a pivotal role in ensuring security and management of the network traffic. Traditional device based networking have security concerns, hindering the mainstream adoption of WANs. Using SDN controllers instead of relying on device security, corporates & organizations can opt for an SD-WAN (software defined wide area network) to access networks outside their physical proximity.

We’re certainly bullish about the SDN market. The technical and economic advantages are big enough to cause a drastic shift in networking technologies. Building a platform that uses wireless networking as a delivery mechanism to provide additional value to users is one of the biggest challenges going ahead. Software defined networking will play a big role in the future of IT networking!

Madhavan Srinivasan

Managing Director – Products and Solutions